Posts Tagged 'civility'



The Year of the Blog: Reflections on 2009′s Musings

Happy New Year to everyone!

February 2009 saw the very first blog entry for The English Manner eleven months and 37 posts later, it is clear to me what a range of subjects we have been able to cover. From the very first post, which commented on suitable business attire in the modern day, to one of our latest entries about respecting age, I think you will agree that etiquette does apply to all aspects of life.

The blog has now had a slight lick of paint to give it a fresher feel; I hope you like it (if you can notice any difference at all!)

My personal favourite of all of the blog entries has to be the one from the 23rd November on Pre and Post Lactarians. I do realise that I have written a majority of the blog so it sounds almost immodest to pick one of my own piece, but what I like about this particular one is the grandiose terminology that Professor Alan S. C. Ross invented (or cited) in one of his books on the subject of sociolinguistics. It’s so pompous it just has to be tongue in cheek, I am sure.

Each year, May sees the start of the British sporting and cultural season. Last year we commented on the major events of said period, such as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. More posts on these events are inevitable, as they never fail to flag up questions of protocol and social customs. Incidentally, if any of our readers have any queries we are always willing to answer them. Please see our main website for details of how to pose your question.

The problem with writing a weekly blog (give or take a week here and there off) is that it becomes slightly difficult when the yearly cycle of events begins again. Does one post the same musings on the Royal Epsom Derby again? Should one try to cover new ground about the same event? The trouble with that is, eventually one will run out of things to say as it will have all been said. As to how we at The English Manner will be getting round this minor dilemma, you’ll have to wait and see.

What is to come in 2010, I hear thousands of you all ask? We aim to provide an insight into events such as the Oxford & Cambridge boat race, Glastonbury, and the State Opening of Parliament, as well as commenting on the etiquette that is associated with wine, flags and behaviour when abroad. Naturally, blogs are reactive and as such anything that crops up in the news that regards etiquette will probably get a look in on our blog, too.

But we want your ideas and suggestions for postings, too. If you have a subject you’d like further investigating or a couple of questions about the same topic, please feel more than free to send them to us. Equally, if you read one of the posts and disagree, are confused, or concur with what we’ve said… comment! We love reading what you’re saying – a lot of the time they can be insightful and sometimes amusing.

Here’s to an interactive 2010.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Hang On To Your Hats

I received this question last week:

It is common knowledge that gentlemen do not wear hats indoors. Does this apply to Christmas party hats?

The answer: No.

A very short missive this week as this is the last posting for 2009. We’ll be returning with more musings and jottings on etiquette in the New Year.

Thank you to all our readers. Merry Christmas!

Crumbs! Brits’ Entertaining Skills are Dunkin’ Disorderly

Once it was an integral part of the British psyche, but new research reveals that Britain’s once famed hospitality has taken a nose-dive in recent years, with the younger generation in particular failing to observe basic etiquette when it comes to entertaining.

Fox’s biscuits – who carried out the study – have identified the following manners as missing in tea time action:

1)    Turning off the TV: Almost half of Brits (45%) don’t bother to turn off the TV when visitors arrive, and the younger the host, the less likely they are to do so. Only a third of 25-34 year olds (33%) switch off their favourite shows, compared to the majority of the over 55s

2)    Twitter chatter: Four out of five under 25s (78%) tweet at the table, or carry on surfing the net from their phones or PCs when their friends come round to visit

3)    Taking the coats: the tradition of taking guests’ coats and putting them on the bed or stashing them out of sight is dying out. While more than 80% of the over 55s take their guests’ coats on arrival, this drops to just over 50% of the under 35s, who prefer to leave their visitors to sweat it out on the sofa.

4)    Tea time treats: Whilst most of us manage to rustle up a mug of tea or coffee, tummies in Britain’s homes are frequently left rumbling, with almost half of Brits failing to offer their guests so much as a biscuit, despite this being identified as one of the best ways to make visitors feel at home

5)    Bring out the best china: Only 8% of under 35s bring out the best china, compared to a third of the over 65s (31%)

Instead, in true Hyacinth Bucket style, Brits today are more interested in keeping up appearances than being polite, with houseproud hosts focusing most of their time and energy on making their homes (84%) or themselves (71%) look good in advance of a visit, rather than making their guests feel welcome.

The research also identified the top tea-time crimes that an inhospitable host can commit. These are:

  1. Having a row with your partner in front of your guests (70%)
  2. Making your guests feel like they’re in the way (69%)
  3. Continuing to read or watch TV once your guests have arrived (60%)
  4. Letting your kids run riot or behave badly (53%)
  5. Nodding off while guests are still there (52%)
  6. Not offering your guest something to drink (37%)
  7. Having badly behaved pets (29%)
  8. Giving guests something horrible to eat or drink (26%)

Guests beware however, as there a few things you shouldn’t do if you want to be invited back, and the most annoying are:

  1. Running your fingers over surfaces to check for dust (64%)
  2. Criticising your host’s house in any way (58%)
  3. Leaving without saying thanks (54%)
  4. Making a mess (38%)
  5. Being fussy or difficult about the food or drink on offer (33%)
  6. Turning up late or early (27%)
  7. Asking your host to remove pets from the room (25%)
  8. If they insist on trying to help with cooking or clearing (15%)

Rachel Moffatt, Brands Sector Director for Fox’s, says: “We were disappointed to discover that tea time etiquette seems to be dying out amongst younger generations. Our survey respondents were unanimous that attentiveness and great conversation are the key to good entertaining, yet so many young adults fail to give guests their undivided attention when they drop by, despite this being one of our biggest gripes when we’re on the receiving end.

As for not feeding guests, for a nation that’s practically been built on tea and biscuits, it surprised us to learn that giving guests something to snack on, however small, isn’t always on the menu. We hope this is one tradition that doesn’t die out completely.”

International manners and etiquette consultant William Hanson [tutor at The English Manner], says “Manners and etiquette have always been at the core of what makes us proud to be British. Offering a biscuit with a cup of tea, turning off the TV when your guests arrive, and taking someone’s coat on arrival are all basic British manners. It is truly a sad day when these everyday etiquette essentials are ignored, and guests are left feeling unwanted and neglected.”

Re-printed from the press release with kind permission from Clarion Communications.

Respecting Age

Susan Osman, associate of The English Manner. Picture: SWNS.

Susan Osman, associate of The English Manner. Picture: SWNS.

Associate of The English Manner, Susan Osman, made the news last week (click here for full article) for commenting on how the Chinese revere age and experience when it comes to the professional world. Susan has been offered a high-profile job with China Radio International’s English service. Having previously worked for, amongst other organisations, the BBC, Susan felt that youth was not seen as vital in Chinese broadcasting, unlike in Britain.

This made me think that sometimes we as a nation are too quick to judge someone over their age. Does it really matter what age someone is when it comes to doing a job? Granted that there are some jobs that do require a certain youthfulness, and for each of those, there will be a similar number of jobs really only suited for older people.

I have encountered people mis-judging me due to my age. I was in a taxi yesterday and the driver asked me how old I was. I replied (20) and he looked very confused. Admittedly, I do look quite young (although older than 20) but sound like a 55-year-old. But I often get asked how I can be an etiquette consultant at my age. To be fair, it’s a valid question. The stereotype of etiquette experts is that of a woman in her early sixties with half-moon glasses and a brooch. I’ve had some fairly harsh comments in the past; although I have a thick skin so can rise about these easily.

There is no pre-requisite that to be an etiquette tutor one has to be over fifty. It is perhaps true that someone of more advanced years will have experienced life more, but as for knowing the rules, nuances and protocols, anyone with enough determination, vigour and vim can pick these up fairly straightforwardly. And being young also gives one the advantage of being able to talk coherently about other aspects of life that older colleagues may not be able to cover.

So which can see that ageism can work both ways. We should not judge someone just based on how old they are. This is wrong. What matters is one’s understanding, determination and ability.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Are you a Pre or Post-Lactarian?

An example of post-lactarianism

It was whilst flicking through Professor Alan S. C. Ross’s book ‘Don’t Say It’ that I stumbled merrily upon these two terms, which were both new to me. A pre-lactarian is someone who pours their milk into their tea or coffee before the hot water; a post-lactarian is someone who adds milk last.

But which method is correct? Well, there is no strict answer to this. It has its roots in class distinction.

In previous eras, adding the milk in before the hot water was always done by the ‘downstairs’ of the big houses, who would have pottery mugs. These mugs did not react too well to the boiling water, and thus the cold milk was poured in first so that it instantly cooled the water and thus the mugs survived in one piece.

Meanwhile, in the ‘upstairs’ of the house, where they could afford cups and saucers made from china or porcelain, the milk could be added after the hot water, as the cups were able to cope with the boiling water as they were made from a more resilient material.

As to who actually invented the terms pre and post-lactarian, I do not know and I am still researching, but they are much grander than some of the terms one could use instead!

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Etiquette for Thanksgiving

thanksgivingTwo weeks ago it was Canadian Thanksgiving; American Thanksgiving is still to come. When I once explained to a young American child that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, she looked at me in bewilderment and asked, “When do they celebrate Christmas?”

For those lucky enough to be invited to share in the bounty of their harvest table, here are a few etiquette tips to help you enjoy the day.  Of course, you will recognise these as your basic dinner party dictums tweaked for this festive occasion.

It’s a good idea to ask about dress code.  Thanksgiving is not a black tie affair and is often relaxed and casual.  But there is a festive air to the occasion and trousers and a sweater or a sport shirt and blazer may be the order of the day. “Casual” never means jeans. Be assured that your hosts will have gone to a lot of trouble to prepare a special dinner and an invitation to share the day is an honour. Make an effort! A quick call to your host is good idea.

While you’re making that call to your host, ask what you can bring. You might be surprised to receive very specific instructions for this particular event but unless pre-arranged, do not bake a pie or food item as this may never make it to the table. Standard host or hostess gifts are appropriate – wine, arranged flowers (sent ahead of time – you’re a pro), a decorative candle, chocolates or candy are all appropriate.

This is not an occasion to be fashionably late. Dinner will be the focus of the day and a day to arrive promptly at the stated time.

At its heart, Thanksgiving is a time for family so expect to greet your host’s parents or other senior relatives. Remember your protocol basics at a social event, the senior lady outranks everybody and appropriate deference is due.

As always, follow your hostess’s lead.  When she asks everyone to move to the dining room, feel free to lead the way, perhaps escorting a senior relative. And when seated, be aware that there will undoubtedly be grace so resist the temptation to begin. Have a grace at the ready should the honour unexpectedly fall to you, or have an appropriate toast to your hosts but only after your host has proposed the first toast.

There will usually be just enough food to feed exactly twice as many people as are at the table and this often means that plates and dishes are passed. It is not your job to enforce the traffic patterns but if you try to keep things passing to the left, it will simplify things. Be aware that many dishes may be old family recipes and favourites that make an appearance only once a year and it is a good idea to try some of everything. Even if it’s got tiny marshmallows in it. (Especially if it’s got tiny marshmallows in it.)

On this happy, festive occasion, keep the conversation entirely above board – family, holiday plans, what books others are reading, the food and table decorations. This is absolutely not an occasion to discuss politics or the economy.

Stay alert to your hostess’s cue for the end of the meal and when she suggests that everyone move to the next room for coffee, again, feel free to be amongst the first, and again, offering to assist any who need it. Never, ever stack dishes at the table thinking you are assisting your hostess.  (Unless, of course, she asks you to.)

There’s one more cue to be on the alert for, and that when it’s time to go home. The focus of this day is the dinner and you are not expected to settle back for the evening.  Comments such as “What a lovely day it’s been, I’m so glad you could join us” are your cue to be gathering your wits and taking your leave.

Finally, within 24 hours, write your thank you note.  Considering the trouble and expense your hosts have taken to entertain you, a telephone call or an email just won’t do. The thank you letter lets your hostess know how much you appreciated the day and is a reminder that she can re-read and share.  A telephone call is over in a few minutes, and an email deleted even faster.  I could go on about thank-you letters, but that’s a whole other blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Robertson
Tutor, The English Manner


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